Jason Miller was President Trump’s communications director during campaign 2016. He joined me this morning.
HH: I want to welcome four, count them, four new affiliates to the Hugh Hewitt Show’s vast empire of affiliates – WQTK, 92.7, the North Country’s news and talk authority in Ogdensburg, New York, WATN, 1240AM, North County’s news and talk leader in Watertown, New York, WWLZ, 820AM and 101.3FM, the talk station in Elmira, New York, and WWSC, 1450AM New York and the Tri-County talk in Glens Falls, New York. I think we’re closing in on 140 stations, friends, and I must say it’s great to have the whole Pennsylvania-New York border. You get a treat, to my new listeners. I begin the week with Jason Miller, Jason, of course, the American communications strategist best known as being the spokesperson for President Trump throughout the Fall 2016 campaign. He’s currently over at Teneo Strategy, formerly over at Jamestown Associates. And of course, he is now a CNN political contributor, and he’s willing to get up early. Good morning, Jason, thank you for joining me.
SM: Hugh, good morning and thank you for having me on.
HH: How do you like the CNN gig? I always enjoyed working with those guys, except you’ve got to be careful of Mark. I mean, the man’s just a New England Patriots fan, and not to be trusted.
SM: Absolutely love it. It’s fun to go on and be someone who supports the President and get a chance to rumble with some of the other guests who obviously do not have the same positions. But I’ve got to tell you the, probably the biggest surprise for me since joining the CNN team a little over a year ago is how cool most of the hosts are. I know some of my right of center friends might not believe that, but everyone’s always treated me exceptionally graciously, and they’re just a lot of fun to be around. So I have a great time doing it, and you know, the more, the merrier, as far as if we can get some more Trump supporters on board. And in the meantime, line up the Democratic opponents to debate with, and let’s have some fun.
HH: No, they’re all terrific. I told people throughout the debate season last year Tapper, Dana Bash, all wonderful. It’s just that Preston character. He’s the one guy. He’s just a terrible man. You’ve got to be careful with him. Look, here’s the reason I called you late last night. I was reading the Washington Post after Easter services. Philip Rucker and Robert Costa, who are both terrific reporters, regular contributors to this program, have a piece entitled Tired Of The Wait Game: White House Stabilizers Gone, Trump Calling His Own Shots. It begins, “President Trump began the past week cutting into steaks at the White House residence on Monday with his political soldiers, including Corey Lewandowski and David Bossie, strategist Brad Pascale and Jared Kushner. And he ended it dining on the gilded patio of Mar-A-Lago estates with Don King. Nowhere was seen John Kelly. Trump is increasingly defiant, singularly directing his administration with the same rapid and brutal style he honed leading his real estate and branding empire.” And they talk about bringing in Ronny Jackson, they talk about the arrival of Mike Pompeo, Gina Haspel, and just a number of different developments, Larry Kudlow showing up. What do you think, Jason Miller? You know him just about as well as anyone, having been his comms director throughout the roller coaster ride of 2016. Is the White House without stabilizers?
JM: No, and one of the things that I think people forget here is this is the exact same President Trump who wasn’t supposed to win in 2016. And we look at all the accomplishments and everything that the President has done in his first year in office, and quite frankly, he had a lot of people around him who didn’t necessarily share his vision and weren’t fully on board with what he was trying to do. And look what he was able to get done even with not necessarily having his entire team around him. Now you look at these different positions, whether it be Pompeo being bumped up to Secretary of State, whether you look at Kudlow replacing Gary Cohn, whether you look at Bolton coming in replacing H.R. McMaster, I mean, these are significant improvements at every single position. So if you’re in the business world, if you’re in the sports world, and you have the opportunity to upgrade at a position, you take it. And so I think the President’s really getting kind of the right pieces into place. And going back to kind of your lead-in, and I went and reread the story again this morning, but you know, how, why is it so terrible that the President had dinner with former campaign strategists, or that he met up with a longtime friend in Don King to grab dinner? I mean, this is what the American people want, is somebody who’s not stuck in the Beltway mode of thinking all the time. It’s just the media, many in the media, a lot of media, I think, really gets where the President is. But many in the media just are never going to understand this outside of Washington appeal.
HH: One of the hooks they’re using is the departure of Hope Hicks. So the hook that is Hicks is oh no, the person who held it all together is gone. First question to you, Jason Miller, are you going back into the White House?
JM: Well, there’s no offer on the table, and so you never want to be the person who’s turning down an offer that’s not on the table. I mean, I would love to go do it at some point. I don’t think right now is necessarily the right time. But I’m obviously a big supporter of the President’s, and anything I can do on the outside to help out, I’m here to do. But we’ll see what happens down the road.
HH: Do you think they need a comms director other than the current wheel and spokes approach where the President’s getting input from a number of different people?
JM: I think what they need right now, it’s not so much about that title, because I think one of the things, another thing you’ve got to keep in mind, too, is the President comes from a business background. He comes from the real world. He’s never sat down on a, say, a House race or a Senate campaign and said here’s the org chart the way that things were done under Clinton, under Bush, under Obama. He has his own vision of really what he wants to do. And I think that there has to be a key person within the team that he designates, that he goes and talks to and gives his viewpoints of what he wants to see happen, at least on the messaging and media side, who then turns around and communicates that with the rest of the staff and externally. Whether that’s under the title of communications director or whether that’s working with someone who’s currently on the team and just putting them in the right spot, that’s up to the President. But you know, so I think that’s one part of it. But look, Hope’s departure is going to be big. I mean, Hope is a trusted member of the team, and someone who I had a chance to work with, and she did a great job. But the President’s had, he’s been doing this in public life for a long time, maybe not necessarily in the White House, but he knows his vision. He knows what he wants to do, and he’s the only person anyone voted for.
HH: And he’s the only person who makes these decisions. Let’s run down the specific ones. We have Pruitt, Jackson, Pompeo and Haspel. Now I always tell people Scott Pruitt is a personal friend of mine. My son works at EPA. And I was with him at Hoover last week. This latest attack on him for the lease agreement, which was okayed by the EPA ethics counsel was not below market, is just the latest in a series of attempts, I think, to remove one of the most effective members of the Cabinet. Is it going to work?
JM: I don’t think so. I mean, obviously, nobody stays for the entire, usually, people don’t stay for the entire time that a president’s in office. But like you said, the counsel signed off on it. I think that what this is really about is the fact that many in the media, and a lot of the political detractors for the President just don’t like the fact that they’re starting to reduce so many burdensome regulations and doing things to help out the economy. And I think a lot of the political pundits are just piling on, on this point, because they have another way to try to knock him out.
HH: Yeah, when I saw Representative Beyer jump on, and he is part of the Congress Safe Climate Caucus, I knew it was about the Paris accord withdrawal, the CAFÉ standards, the idea that the Waters of the United States rule was going to be rewritten, the Clean Power Plan is going to be rewritten. I don’t think Trump fires his effective people. I think he fires his ineffective people.
JM: Right, and also let’s, if we’re going to be intellectually honest here, too, even if the President put someone in that position who is a big softy, who very much was a, who wanted to keep going with the EPA the exact same way that it was done under President Obama, they would still be attacked, because ultimately, it’s someone working for President Trump.
JM: And so there’s, I think this is one of the things that I always try to tell Trump supporters that you have to fight back, you have to go and push back and set the record straight on these things, because there is no moderating. Until President Trump is up for reelection and then he wins again in 2020, his people are going to be attacked all the way through.
HH: Now Ronny Jackson, by all accounts, a wonderful, dynamic, extraordinarily personable individual, the attack on him is he’s never run an agency. My response is tell me if he has the ability to run an agency. I found a lot of people like Dr. Bennett in the first Reagan term took over NEH and then Education, was one of the most effective members of the Reagan Cabinet. It doesn’t tell us a thing if he’s ever run an agency before. He’s an admiral in the United States Navy, and everybody thinks he’s terrific.
JM: Right, and I mean, here’s someone who is a rear admiral in the Navy who’s overseen pretty big operations as far as with his medical staff. And I think the other thing, too, is, especially if you’re a Trump supporter, the way the VA has been run has not been very effective. Shulkin is actually a pick that I wasn’t a big fan of at the beginning. There were a couple of them, most of them have gone now, that I maybe wasn’t the biggest fan of. But if, nobody out there is saying hey, the VA is doing swimmingly, let’s just keep going in the direction it was going. I mean, Shulkin opposed a lot of bigger, broader reforms that the President and his administration were trying to put into place here. But Ronny Jackson has a great reputation, very stand-up guy, and again, this is another one of those type picks where no matter who President Trump puts into that position, they’re going to be attacked by the political opponents.
HH: Then the last two, I expect Mike Pompeo to have a walk in the park. He had 60-plus votes last time. I can’t imagine red state Democrats like Heidi Heitkamp and Joe Manchin voting against him. But Gina Haspel, the deputy at CIA who is a non-public person, very little is known about her, it looks to me like the Democrats are sharpening their spears for her. What do you think, Jason Miller?
JM: Well, from what I’ve heard, it sounds like a lot of this is going to come down to Senator McCain and where he votes on it. And I think that with some of these initial media reports being corrected after Gina Haspel was nominated here, the truth got out about what she oversaw or didn’t oversee when she, during her time at the CIA. But when you have folks like Clapper who are coming in and praising the President for this pick, which I mean I can’t remember the last time that James Clapper praised the President for just about anything. But when you have someone like Clapper who’s backing this pick, I think that really speaks volumes and let you know what the actual career people at the CIA think. And that’s someone actually to point out as well, whether it be Pompeo going into the State Department. You have this thing where you had both longtime Trump supporters and career people at the State Department who are saying that putting in Pompeo was a great move. People like seeing Gina Haspel promoted up to the director’s spot. I mean, this is a pretty darn good lineup the President’s putting together here.
HH: So to circle back, if the phone rings and it’s your boss from 2016, and he says Jason, I need you, would you go?
JM: I mean, you can’t say no to the President, but look, it’s, there’s no offer that’s on the table, and so right now, I very much enjoy what I’m doing. I’m having a lot of fun. And I mean, you know, heck, who are they going to put on to battle my liberal political opponents on CNN if I were to leave?
HH: That’s true, but if and when you’ve talked to him, is he happy and content, because that’s the, I just don’t believe this idea that stabilizers are gone and he’s isolated. I just don’t believe it.
JM: Yeah, no, that’s not the case at all. I think he’s in a pretty good mood right now. He’s taking a look at the market. He’s seeing the fact that they’ve been able to bring all these other countries to the table to renegotiate on trade deals. I mean, heck, look what they just pulled off with renegotiating the South Korea trade deal. And the U.S. didn’t have to give up anything. And we were able to get some pretty significant concessions. We’re seeing things like that all around. I think the President’s going to do some good things to narrow the trade deficit with China. And it’s, his vision’s being put into place, and I think everyone, as they see more money in their paychecks and how the economy’s going, is probably pretty happy about it.
HH: Very happy about it. Jason Miller, thanks for getting up early. Have a good, long day over at CNN, and we’ll talk to you again soon.
JM: Hey, Hugh, thank you very much.
End of interview.